CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Talent has never been much of a question when it comes to Kennedy Meeks. Consistently playing up to his potential and committing to the task, on the other hand, are topics that have followed the Tar Heel senior around for much of his career.
Through the small sample size of North Carolina’s first nine games, there is evidence Meeks is intent on making the most out of his final season in Chapel Hill. He’s averaging a double-double with 13.2 points on 53.2 percent shooting and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Not only has Meeks ramped up his rebounding efforts in the void left by Brice Johnson – he pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds in the opener against Tulane only to set a new mark six games later with 16 rebounds against Wisconsin – but he’s been much more consistent, scoring in double figures in all but one game and grabbing at least seven rebounds in every game.
It’s the type of start he envisioned once he put the 2015-16 season to bed and began to look ahead.
“I’ve definitely been capable of these types of performances,” Meeks said.
To be fair, Meeks had a similar start to his junior season, a fact the Charlotte, N.C. native brought up during his press conference on Tuesday. Through the Tar Heels’ first nine games in 2015-16, Meeks was averaging 12.3 points on 59.5 percent shooting and 7.4 rebounds. It was then UNC announced its veteran center would be sidelined for several weeks with a bone bruise on his left knee.
Meeks ultimately missed seven games, and the player that came back wasn’t the same one that had started the season. He fell into a funk that took much of the ACC schedule to escape. His emotions finally erupted in a Twitter rant after fans began calling for Isaiah Hicks to move into Meeks’s starting spot.
“I just think there was a lot that I was holding in, not saying much, even keeping stuff from my teammates,” Meeks said five days later after UNC topped Duke at Cameron Indoor. “So that’s the platform I chose. It might not have been the best one, but it is what it is. I can’t take it back, but that’s how I felt. I’m not ever going to shy away from how I feel.”
Since then, Meeks has matured and refocused on his final run in a Tar Heel uniform.
“I think I’m a lot more invested in trying to get better, trying to make my knee better,” Meeks said on Tuesday. “I know last year I kind of got down on myself when the injury occurred and didn’t take advantage of the things I should have, the best way I should have and put my team in a better position, but this summer I was really focusing on not trying to make my knee a problem and really focusing on being a better basketball player.”
Part of the maturation was forced with the graduations of Johnson, Marcus Paige and Joel James, a trio of players that took hold of leadership roles and allowed Meeks to linger in the background. That’s no longer an option, as accountability is a requirement at this stage of his career.
“As a senior, everybody looks to you,” Meeks said. “Even as a junior, like Joel [Berry], people look to him, so I think as a leader you really have to be invested and really spend time on things the whole team should, which is rehabbing, staying after practice for shooting or whatever it may be.
“I don’t know what it is, but I’m just a lot more into it, more assertive, and wanting to get better every day. It’s going good for me so far.”